Neo Kinbaku Reveals Glow-in-the-Dark Thrills
When you approach the entrance of Sleeping Beauty in Shibuya, you don't just walk through the door like it's the local convenience store. It doesn't open automatically like most doors these days. In fact, it's kept firmly locked.
There's an intercom outside. Push the button. When the door opens, if it opens, prepare to enter a different world.
Of course, the neighborhood where Sleeping Beauty is located isn't exactly Main St., USA. This is an area populated by love hotels, clubs and various and sundry other establishments catering to a decidedly adult clientele.
Sleeping Beauty is a "happening bar" and, as such, it fits in well here.
When I first contacted Hajime Kinoko, the owner, I could tell he was proud of his club. He told me it was the biggest happening bar in Japan. I've only been to a couple myself but after taking a bit of a tour around Sleeping Beauty, I don't think this was an idle boast. It's certainly the biggest I have seen.
Traditional tatami room outfitted for shibari
For starters, it occupies four floors in a fairly large building. Most of the action takes place on either the lower level or on the first and second floors (for speakers of true English, that would be the first, second and third floors, I think).
Hajime Kinoko is an entrepreneur and the youngest up-and-coming nawashi on the scene today. His is, not surprisingly, a stage name. The first kanji character in Kinoko is the same as in Oniroku, as in Oniroku Dan, the famous SM writer.
I suppose we should translate this as "demon" although my online translator seems to want to render it as "ogre". Since the same kanji character can oftentimes have a different pronunciation or meaning, it certainly makes things interesting. And, of course, Japanese also uses the katakana and hiragana writing systems. Type Kinoko into an online translator using hiragana and it spits out the word mushroom.
Going down the staircase of the multi-story building
As such, when I got a signed copy of a DVD from Hajime-san, there is an elegant little drawing of a mushroom next to his name.
I didn't ask him his age, but he said he started his first club eight years ago when he was 24. That club was called Culture (hmm, Culture Club). He then started Beauty and Beast in Shinjuku which has since closed.
Sign of the mushroom
I'd never heard of Culture but I'd certainly heard of Beauty and Beast and had even been there a couple of times for SM shows. I didn't know who the owner was and, at that time, most people would probably not have recognized the name Hajime Kinoko.
In fact, I recall thinking it a bit odd that this happening bar was hosting these SM shows. It seems to me that most of the customers that go to these places are ones with extremely healthy sex drives but little interest in the darker side of things.
Once, as I was sitting on the floor wielding a video camera, a tasty morsel came over, sat next to me and offered to buy me a drink. But when the conversation got to the point of asking about any possible interest on her part in SM, she scurried away in search of less dangerous prey.
Lots of suspension points in this happening bar
Now it all makes sense. The owner of Beauty and Beast had, in fact, been cultivating an interest in shibari, kinbaku, whatever you call it, for a few years by that time.
I asked Hajime when he first became interested in SM and he said eight years ago, about the time he started his first club.
This answer always comes as a surprise to me and it's a similar answer given by another well-known nawashi and SM performer, Naka Akira. As one who has always just assumed these inclinations are either hard-wired from the beginning or come at a very early age, I never know quite how to react.
A modern play area
According to Hajime, people would show up at his club (at that time Culture in Roppongi) and start tying up their partners. Some were amateurs, others more accomplished, but this is how he became exposed to kinbaku. He also felt it was his duty, as the proprietor, to find out more about this unusual activity since so many of his customers seemed to like it.
He watched, he listened, he learned. In fact, in those early days, his customers were his teachers.
I asked him if there was any one person who had influenced him the most. His answer came quickly, almost before I had finished speaking: Akechi Denki.
Space for a DJ
Akechi Denki, now deceased, visited his Beauty and Beast club several times performing shows and guiding Hajime with words and actions into the inner mysteries of the art of kinbaku. Not teaching him, per se, as we would understand it, but reaching him in a most profound way.
Hajime felt that Akechi Denki communicated with him through his heart and soul. He was mentored by the living legend until the legend took its place in the eternities. As if bequeathing a farewell gift, part of the master's spirit found a home in the receptive heart of the young apprentice.
The latest diagnostic equipment
As quickly as he answered my earlier question, when it came to talking about Akechi Denki and the influence the sensei had on him, Hajime had difficulty putting his feelings into words. I could see him struggling to express the reverence he felt for the late nawashi. This occasioned a certain lost in translation moment as well during our interview.
Words were becoming impractical but I felt I could understand what Hajime was trying to tell me -- somehow. Hajime didn't learn from Akechi Denki in any traditional sense, he felt what the master was imparting to him. He was particularly in awe of the connection the master had with the women who would submit to his ropes.
"He understood what the woman needed," Hajime said simply. Hajime told me he has seen a lot of rope masters. He has never seen another kinbakushi like Akechi Denki. "His kinbaku was freedom."
Cosplay on display
And then, like a bolt out of the blue, an English word. A not very simple English word at that, and I was surprised Hajime even new it. "I had an epiphany!"
An epiphany, that's how he described it. He said his kinbaku changed after that and neither he, nor his approach, has ever been the same.
When I first contacted Hajime, he described himself as the "general manager" of Sleeping Beauty, the largest happening bar in Japan. I thought, well, that's nice.
An upcoming show with Hajime Kinoko and other nawashi
If you've done the math, Hajime is around 32 now and could probably pass for younger. He's slender with short dark hair and I think we're roughly the same height although he appears a bit taller in the picture we took because he has more hair than I do!
He's making a name for himself primarily by way of his dynamic live stage performances. This seems appropriate as this is the way Akechi Denki started out and many other masters as well.
He is making plans for a European tour next spring and my friend Esinem is keen to have Hajime teach and perform at the London Festival of the Art of Japanese Bondage April 2-5. As of now, it looks like that's going to happen. Hajime will travel with his own model and he is also planning to visit Munich and Rome.
No dungeon is complete without one of these
But before I knew better, I was wondering how the mere "manager" of a club was going to be able to get all this time off to go traipsing around Europe. When I found out he was his own boss, that took care of that question.
You probably couldn't ask for a more interesting, or versatile, performer these days than Hajime Kinoko. Truly, the spirit of Akechi Denki lives on. And Hajime isn't ashamed to admit that he studies other nawashi as well and takes what he thinks is good and merges those techniques into his own style.
Admittedly, when I first saw Hajime's website a year or so ago, I didn't know anything about him. I just thought he was some new guy who may or may not amount to anything. One thing that struck me was the live shows featuring what appeared to be glowing, neon rope when the lights were turned down low.
Performance at SM World in Night on January 10
Candidly, I wasn't impressed. It just seemed like a gimmick. But after talking to Hajime in person, I now have a better understanding of what he's trying to do.
In fact, his roots are in traditional kinbaku (see above) and he practices both traditional kinbaku and something he calls neo kinbaku. Neo kinbaku is this stuff with the neon ropes and, well, it gets even wilder from there.
But he does both kinds of shows as can be seen in some of the videos on his website. He told me that the neo kinbaku is to grab the attention of the younger folks who might have an interest in kinbaku but don't relate to the traditional shows.
When I gave it some thought, I realized he was right. You see a lot of old codgers at SM shows, especially those held at strip venues. Hell, I'm precariously close to being an old codger myself. No wonder I prefer the traditional kinbaku performances.
But, according to Hajime, the younger crowd isn't as interested in these types of performances. For them he created his neo kinbaku shows. If you check out the videos on his site, you will see that he performed at the Fuji Rock festival this past summer. Not too many old codgers in that audience!
Hajime admits that before he became involved in SM, he held the usual stereotypes about people who took part in this bizarre activity. In fact, he says he was initially afraid of the whole thing. But, as mentioned above, he felt a responsibility as the club owner to find out more about it so that he could better serve his patrons. He just didn't know at the time where it all would lead.
Where it has lead is to his becoming one of the top stage performers in the country for a broad cross section of spectators: traditional kinbaku for the traditionalists and neo kinbaku for the younger crowd.
For neo kinbaku, three blacklights are handled by three hardy assistants, the stage lights are turned down low, and cotton rope is used in lieu of traditional asanawa. The rope emits an uncanny glow and even the ends are affixed with small lights. Once the girl is completely trussed up wearing only panties or completely naked, burning red candles are wedged between the ropes and the wax drips unrelentingly onto her tender flesh. Hajime then takes her for a spin.
Amazingly, in another performance, the model is actually bound to a bicycle and hoisted into the air.
A closeup of the effect
Flickering candles, glowing ropes and gleaming body paint; this is what the young people come to see, according to Hajime Kinoko. And he doesn't disappoint. If he did, he wouldn't be doing his job: encouraging those who may have an interest deep down in kinbaku to give it some more thought. He wants to break through the stereotypes (the kind he himself had) and offer a fresh perspective.
Hajime says he doesn't really prefer one type of show to the other. What he does just depends on the location and who the audience is. One thing he always attempts, whatever kind of show he is doing, is to give the best performance he is capable of. In order to do this, he draws inspiration from traditional Japanese theater, both noh and kabuki.
Timing. This is what he is attempting to perfect. Life doesn't always move along in second gear and neither should a performance. There are times when things are done deliberately, and then all hell breaks loose. Timing is the key. Along with everything else, of course!
While he is agnostic concerning traditional and neo kinbaku, he says he does have a preference when it comes to models. He likes a girl with a nice ass. (Ed. We originally reported that Hajime was a breast man. The word in Japanese is oshiri. Ass, not tits. We stand corrected and apologize for the error).
There is a pause and the mood becomes more sober.
Japanese girls today, Hajime says, lack modesty. A girl today is much more likely to spread her legs. In the old days, they were deeply embarrassed and ashamed to allow even a little flesh to be revealed. Today, girls wear mini skirts. Even high school girls wear short dresses and then they hike them up even more when they can get away with it.
Well, I always thought that was a feature not a bug, but he has a different take.
Another view of the lower level
Hajime idealizes the Japanese woman of yore. The kind of woman who, if you were binding her in her kimono in a tea house somewhere, would struggle to keep herself completely covered, even her lower legs. As your hand reached to raise the hem of her kimono, she would turn beet red and protest adamantly through her gag. The shame and humiliation she would suffer as you slowly raised the fabric would reverberate through her psyche, the perfect catalyst to the arousal in your loins.
I told Hajime that perhaps he was in need of a time machine. Not so, he protested. These girls come along every now and then. "When I find a model who has that kind of feeling, I really like that," he says.
As for rope, he favors Japanese asanawa, seven meters/six millimeters. He uses both natural and red rope. He said he prefers newaza (floor work) over the standing and flying varieties.
I mentioned to him that I had seen a picture of him with a model outside and partially bound to a sign post on Web Sniper. He acknowledged that he is a fan of outdoor bondage.
A gift of tenugui: Nawa Kokoro (Rope Heart)
As for the future? Well, he's really just getting started. He runs a well-known and, from what I could tell, popular club. I was there on a Monday night and the place was hopping. Not filled to the brim but pretty good for a Monday I would say.
Hajime can, and does, hold shows at his own club and certainly has the place outfitted properly. There's a stage complete with a DJ set up. There's an additional modern area and not far away a place for "medical play". He's got a huge supply of costumes that would give a Don Quixote store a run for its money. I suppose if you were into doing some sort of medical play, a sexy nurse's uniform could be found there.
And, of course, he's got a traditional Japanese area complete with tatami and lots of dark, wood posts and beams.
I didn't ask him how many club members there are but I did find out that his rope salon (i.e., those customers particularly interested in learning how to tie) has 110 members all by itself. The night I was there, several of the rope salon members were having a little party. Most were sitting around a large table cooking up some Japanese stew while others were tying up their partners in one of the many convenient areas provided by Hajime Kinoko for just this purpose.
His rope salon is called Ichi Nawa No Kai (which also happens to relate to the name Hajime. The kanji can be read ichi, hajime, hitotsu and maybe more ways).
At the salon classes, Hajime teaches the advanced students. He has two assistants who teach the beginning and intermediate students.
I will mention that several times Hajime asked me if I'd like a bite to eat but I tried to gracefully decline each time. I just felt I should conduct my business and be on my way. But I was very impressed with his hospitality.
I also got the feeling, judging from the staff, that he must be a good boss to work for. He always seemed in control but I never saw him push his weight around. If you're like me, you know that these kinds of leaders are rare.
About as rare as a mushroom performing neo kinbaku.
Thanks to Hajime Kinoko for his time and hospitality and Lim for translating.